Cervical Cancer Death Rates Are Higher Than Everyone Thought

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Cervical cancer is far more deadly for women than previously thought, according to a new study.

The study, published in the journal Cancer, exposed a flaw in previous studies on cervical cancer mortality: When calculating risk, they did not consider women who had undergone hysterectomies. When correcting for that, the researchers showed that death by risk of cervical cancer is 77 percent higher than previously believed.

Micrograph of cancer in the cervix. Credit: Nephron/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

The American Cancer Society reports that in 2017, 12,820 diagnoses of cervical cancer will be made; 4,210 women will die from the disease.

“A correction for hysterectomy has revealed that cervical cancer mortality rates are underestimated, particularly for black women,” concluded the authors, led by Anne F. Rositch at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “The highest rates are seen in the oldest black women, and public health efforts should focus on appropriate screening and adequate treatment in this population.”

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According to the National Cancer Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health, most cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV. Just two types of HPV, 16 and 18, account for about 70 percent of cervical cancer cases.

“Two of the proteins made by high-risk HPVs interfere with cell functions that normally prevent excessive growth, helping the cell to grow in an uncontrolled manner and to avoid cell death,” the National Cancer Institute reports. “Many times these infected cells are recognized by the immune system and eliminated. Sometimes, however, these infected cells are not destroyed, and a persistent infection results. As the persistently infected cells continue to grow, they may develop mutations in cellular genes that promote even more abnormal cell growth, leading to the formation of precancerous cells and, ultimately, a cancerous tumor.”

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the U.S. In fact, 90 percent of all sexually active men, and 80 percent of women who have sex, will contract it at one point or another. Some types of HPV, which may or may not cause infectious genital warts, can lead to serious problems such as cancer.

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Thanks to modern medicine, today there is a vaccine for HPV available to both girls and boys. Yet many parents elect not to have their child vaccinated.

Per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only six in 10 girls nationwide have begun the HPV vaccine series. Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Kansas, Utah Missouri, Kentucky, Wyoming and Montana have the lowest vaccination rates for girls.

In addition to causing cervical cancer, HPV can cause anal cancer (95 percent of anal cancer cases are caused by HPV) as well as cancers of the throat, tongue and tonsils (70 percent of such cancers are caused by HPV). HPV causes 65 percent of all vaginal cancers, half of all vulvar cancers, and more than a third of cases of cancer of the penis, per the National Cancer Institute.

 

A professional journalist nearly 30 years, David Heitz started his career at the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa before moving to Los Angeles. He led the Glendale News-Press to best small daily newspaper in the state (CNPA) as managing editor and also worked as executive news editor of the Press-Telegram. He worked briefly as deputy news editor of the Detroit News before returning to the Quad-Cities, where he has worked as a freelance medical writer since 2012 for several national websites. He recently purchased his childhood home and says he truly is “living the dream.” 
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